THE PIATTS OF EAST BEND, KY 1803 - 1865
Arranged by Katherine Piatt Bottorff
Notes by Jane Piatt Bottorff Holmes
Scanned and additional notes by Steve Bottorff Feb. 2004
This point in the Ohio river is very well named. The river makes an almost right angled turn, and flows east for ten miles or more. On the Kentucky side of the river the land is bottom land, covered at that time with cane brake and virgin forest. On the Indiana side - high rocky hills frown down. Always dark and forbidding they seemed to be the natural hiding place of Indians and outlaws, and later on the refuge for fugitive negros, counterfeiters, and other desperate men. The sun shown all day long on this lovely tract of land on the Kentucky side. There was a salt and sulfur spring at one point, which was a place of rendezvous for Indians as well as a resort for the mastodons and buffalow which roamed this country before the advent of white settlers. It is still a place of interest to paleontologists, although no full skeletons have been taken from the quick sands for many years.
In l780 a trading post was established at the western end of the bend by a Canadian named DeHart. He is said to have made a fortune in furs - but in 1785 the Indians killed him and destroyed his buildings. The land lying between DeHart trading post and the Big Bone Springs was the land selected by Major Robert Piatt to be his home. In 1802 he married Miss Nancy Jones of the Harrodsburg settlement. We have no record of how he became acquainted with her - only the tradition that she was very lovely.
Robert Piatt was associated with Col. Jacob's son - John H. in business. They were merchants of food stuffs. They sent flatboats loaded with cured meat, potatoes, apples and corn down the river to Nachez and New Orleans. Robert raised great quantities of such stuff on his farm and John H. bought up - from the other settlers - their surplus. In the course of a few years these men became very wealthy - so that when the war of 1812 spread out to the Ohio and Mississippi regions, - they became contractors for Army supplies. Robert was commissioned Major in the Quartermaster department, and was in active service in the field. John H. was buying supplies with Cincinnati as his base of operations. The story has many times been told of the efforts these two men made to keep the troops in food and the base ingratitude of the U.S. government which refused to pay for the supplies. (1)
(1) Further explanation of this will be made later.
Note: I do not know when this was originally written. I have tried to keep the punctuation and spelling as it was written except for breaking it into paragraphs for easier reading.
While Major Robots was in the Army - his farm was and home were being carried on by his wife and the capable negro slaves. There is no record of where the East Bend negros came from: from their manners and appearance - they might have been from Boston - but I imagine most of them came from Virginia and Maryland with families who emigrated to Kentucky in the early years of 1800. Possibly Major Roberts bought some of his slaves in New Orleans = but if so - they soon became as gracious and faithful as the ones who came from the east.
Other families had bought land nearby. A county seat had been established at Burlington and a road surveyed through the Bend on up the river to a point opposite the settlement of the Peppers - called Rising Sun; at where a ferry had been established about 1806. At a point about five or six miles from the ferry this road branched off into the hills in order to make a shorter route to the county seat. Up in the hills back of East Bend settlers had been buying land and building houses as busily as those in the Bend. The Stephens', Ryles, Wilsons and others lived between the bottom lands of the Bend, and the Hill plateau where the village of Burlington was laid out. East Bend had a number of good families established - the Kinteys -the Craigs, the Lavan Lodge family, the Canbys from Maryland - and later - the Goss' and Gregorys. Laban Lodge's estate joined Major Piatt's on the east end.
In later years these extensive lands were cut up and sold so that many new families came in. Major Robert sold a large part of his farm to a Mr. Crutchfield who left it to his niece Mrs. McConnell. Then as his (Major Robert) sons grew up he gave each one a farm and negros to work it. John had land adjoining his father's home place. William, Jacob and Daniel each had farms back toward and facing the Burlington road. As I mentioned before - the Canbys had come from Maryland and lived near the Lavan Lodge place. Major Robert's daughter Elizabeth, married Dr. Canby (Israel T.) and after a few years of country practice they moved to Madison Indiana. Katherine married Lavan Lodge and had a large family of young people around her when my mother first visited her East Bend relatives. Churches had been started, a Methodist church near the west end of the Bend - and a Baptist church on the Burlington road for which Major Robert gave the land in perpetuity.
To return to Major Robert's home. He built a large brick house close to the river bank and laid out the grounds so that the place became a Mecca for visitors who came to enjoy the hospitality so freely offered and also to admire the flowers and plants grown in our great grandmother's garden. It is told that she had medicinal herbs enough to keep the whole plantation in teas and salves and as doctors were very scarce - she was physician by proxy to the whole neighborhood.
When steamboats began to pass up and down the Ohio Major Robert established a wood yard where he supplied cordwood to boats. When the steamers would land to take on wood, the passengers would be escorted up to the "big house" and taken to see the gardens and orchards and returned to the steamers loaded with fruit and flowers.
Our great grandmother Nancy must have been a wonderful woman for the times. She managed this big plantation with the large force of field hands and house servants. She kept accounts showing the crops planted - the amount of produce used on the farm and that sold and shipped south on the steamboats. She wrote in her book what medicines were given to the slaves - and noted precautions to be taken to avoid cholera - and with all this heavy work she found time to do exquisite needlework. Some few pieces of her fine embroidery are still preserved.
After her death Major Robert and his son John, carried on the farm and wood yard in partnership, but without its mistress the house and gardens were neglected and life seemed very unlike the days of old. Major Robert spent most of his time in the office - a small brick building with a porch across the front built on the riverbank for convenience to the steamboats. John had married and built a cottage just down river a half mile or so from his father's place so Major Robert began to travel - to Washington - to New York - to Cincinnati - back to New Orleans where he had been when Gen. Jackson defeated the British and where the U.S. troops cheered Major Piatt for keeping them in food at his own expense.
Somewhere in his travels he met Mrs. Anne Steadman Tousey, a widow - and married her. She was a New Yorker by birth - but had traveled a great deal, and was very much of a cosmopolitan. She dressed well and knew how to entertain - so when Major Robert brought her to the old house in East Bend - she set to work immediately to make the place what it had once been. After a while she persuaded the Major to build a new house nearer Rising Sun. It was built in the curve of the road - a long low house which still stands very much as it was before the Civil War. The carriage house was built directly on the road - so that they could drive out without opening or shutting gates. This place was the center of neighborhood social life for several years - until the Major and his wife began traveling again.
The years just before the Civil War were very pleasant in East Bend. All the families -the Kintleys - the Craigs - the McConnells - the Piatt brothers and their children - the Ryles ~ the Wilsons -the Stephens had all been here long enough to almost seem rooted, but changes were coming, and long shadows were beginning to stretch over the land. It was question how to deal with the negro servants for one thing. They had grown so numerous that it taxed their owners to provide for them. Some of the young men had already gone away to Canada or to Ohio. There was a feeling of restlessness and discontent all over this part of Kentucky. Times were hard - money scarce - banks closing and always in the background - that threat of something in connection with the negro slaves. Into this social life came Dr. Canby's family from Indiana.
About 1830 Dr. Canby, then practicing his profession in Madison Ind. was appointed to a political job as registrar of the U.S. land office at Crawfordsville. He had a nice home in Madison, quite a family and two or three of the family negros to whom he had given their freedom. - Aunt Cassy - her husband the coachman... and a granddaughter -Passthenis. My mother Kitty was the baby at that time but after the removal of the family to Crawfordsville several other children were born. Dr Canby was a good physician and a very attractive man -and soon was popular and successful in both his profession and in business. His brother-in-law, William Piatt followed him to Indiana engaging in general merchandising at Covington -a village in Fountain county near by.
The land office did an immense amount of business at first, and Dr. Canby felt justified in building a large house commodious enough for his family and servants. Two young ladies - two young gentlemen and several younger children made a gay place of the Crawfordsville home. The oldest son -Richard* -was a cadet at West Point - the next one - Charles - was in school studying to be a surveyor. Sarah - the oldest daughter was engaged to Col. David Clark and Beulah was enjoying the gaiety of a college town. This was the environment in which my mother grew up.
The great depression of '37 (1837) came on. The government closed the land offices and required the registrar to make a full accounting. It was impossible to do this at once so correspondence dragged along for months and years - finally unable to force these immigrants who had bought state lands on time to settle up - Dr. Canby was forced to call on his bendsmen for help. He assigned everything he owned to satisfy this debt - so his family was left completely destitute. Only one thing could be done -that was for the children to go back to Kentucky and ask shelter of their relatives in East Bend.
I will now write as my mother told the story. I've often thought that these unsung heroines of sorrow and deprivation should be given a crown someday but my gentle mother never realized that she was a heroine. - She says
"At the time of father's business troubles Brother Richard* (*General Richard Sprigg Canby killed by Indians later. Canby, Minnesota named after him.) was stationed in Washington City an attaché of the president. He had married Miss Louise Hawkins of Crawfordsville, and they were in the midst of the season of Washington. Brother Charles came with us to Kentucky and soon made a place for himself as surveyor and later as representative to the state legislature. He married Miss Sue Breckenridge, and lived up in the Stephens and Ryle neighborhood. Sometime in the '60s he moved to Missouri buying a farm near Hanibal. Our great aunt Miss Sarah Canby and my brother Howard and two sisters, Beulah and Mary, went to Missouri also. I had married Uncle John's oldest son - Robert, in 1852. We really eloped as our relatives rather frowned on cousins marrying, but we were forgiven, and Rob's father helped us get settled on a farm back from the river and facing the Burlington road. We were on the same line as Uncle Daniel and Uncle Jacob and Uncle William and his tobacco factory. All these places facing the much travelled road to the county seat.
Uncle William had moved back to East Bend during the business failures of the 40's. He brought back with him really elegant store fixtures. Everyone for miles around came to see his store and tobacco factory. His first wife Aunt Mary Satterlee had died, leaving one son -Arthur. He then married Miss Mary Hoblitzell of Maryland. She was a descendent of the Cresap family and never allowed us to forget it.
Rob and I had everything nice to go to housekeeping. A beautiful walnut bed room suite - all wool ingrain carpets on both front rooms. Walnut chairs and sofa in the parlor - an etagine in one corner and books and pictures on the walls. The parlor bedroom was papered with a picture design -a boat on a lake and ladies under little parasols strolling along the beach. We had an ice house which was filled every winter, so that we could have ice cream in strawberry time and we had a fine spring with a milk house built over it. It was covered with climbing roses so heavy that the window on the side away from the house was completely hidden. The cornfields came clear up to the yard fence, and sometimes I felt as it I would smother when the corn grew so tall and the weather was so hot that the boys - the negros - had to plow at night.
Rob delighted in giving me surprises. Once he brought home a large square package from Cincinnati and made me give three guesses before be would open it. I guessed a set of dishes, a set of silver ware and a new outfit of table linen -but the gift turned out to be a complete set of Sir Walter Scott's novels -then new to us all. Everyone in East Bend enjoyed them as they were loaned from Gunpowder Creek to Rising Sun.
Uncle William had built several store rooms to use in his tobacco business. One of these was quite large and used for church services and social gatherings and even political meetings tho very circumspectly in these time. Once the ladies of the Bend decided to give a supper or some project or other and everyone contributed all she felt able to give. One of our neighbors brought a dishpan full of chicken salad ~ a great deal more than could be used on the table, so the little children were given spoons and told to eat all they wanted. There were several very ill little folks to be carried home that night. Aunt Mary was very high strung and very outspoken as befitted a Cresap. Once Mrs. McConnel was taking dinner there and said a great deal about the way they had to almost live on turkey. Aunt Mary had stewed dried peaches for dessert and Mrs. McConnel remarked "How nice it is to have a store to draw on I cannot afford fruit out at season." Aunt Mary said "Did you ever think of selling a turkey and buying a few dried peaches?" Another time Mrs. McConnel was criticizing Uncle William for some thing and said "Why, Mr. Piatt must be a fool to do this." Aunt Mary said in her suavest tones -"Even if I thought Mr. McConnell was a fool -I wouldn't say so to you."
Major Robert's grandfather had a famous stallion of the Messenger line. After his death Uncle William fell heir to this horse and one of his sons. This beautiful dappled grey horse was Uncle William's pride and he was fond of riding Messenger when he went to the post office at the ferry. One evening Aunt Mary said she would like a ride too -but when supper was over Uncle Wm. rode away without saddling Aunt Mary's horse. She waited until he was out of sight then followed on foot. She felt pretty certain that he would stop to talk to someone before long. Sure enough - at the Methodist Church he had an audience so Aunt Mary picked up a pebble and threw it at Messenger. The horse was outraged at such treatment so he spun around in a circle - danced on his hind legs and nearly unseated Uncle William. Just as he got Messenger quieted down Aunt Mary threw another pebble - this time Messenger tried to stand on his head. It was quite a ride for Uncle William and lots of fun for Aunt Mary but we always suspected that they had a real quarrel when they reached home. In the '60s Uncle Wm. Moved to Cumberland Maryland - the land of the Cresaps - and there became a prominent citizen. He was Mayor for a term or two and was always interested in civic welfare.
During the first two years of the war he tried to carry on as usual -hoping against hope that it would soon be over - or at least that it would be fought out on northern soil. Most of the families in East Bend were Southern in sympathy but many of the hill families - and especially newcomers were Union. Uncle Daniel's three boys - Israel, will and Wash had enlisted in Gen. Morgan's cavalry early in the war -so had some of the Grant boys from the northern part of the county. The Grants were close neighbors of the Jacob Platt family, but they were not much impressed by the abolition speeches made by Judge Dan Piatt and his sons -Abe Saunders and Don. Indeed Don Piatts action in recruiting a regiment of Maryland negros was very generally condemned, and President Lincoln's refusal to permit this or to offer Col. Don any further advancement, was just as generally approved. Someone asked Rob if this notorious Don Platt was related to him. Rob answered that he used to be a cousin, but no longer. They looked enough alike to have been brothers.
Sometime in '63 (1863) we had a new preacher come to East Bend. He was an attractive man - but somewhat jumpy and nervous. He preached good sermons and led the singing in fine style but he was a little unreliable in his quotations from the Bible. He stayed at Uncle William's who at this time was living in grandfather's house which had been built near Rising Sun. One morning Aunt Mary called Mr. Phelps to breakfast and when he didn't appear she went to his room, thinking he must be i11. She found the window open - an empty pistol case on the bureau - and no Mr. Phelps. It developed that our young peachier was a confederate spy and had been passing information through the lines all summer. We never heard of him again, but wondered about his fate many times. As the war dragged on toward it's close we often were visited by groups of straggling soldiers. One day Rob had gone to Rising Sun and I was alone with my baby - Katie (Grandmother Bottorff). Three men in ragged blue uniforms came in and demanded dinner. I set out every thing I had - but they insisted on more - so I cut a ham and fried a plateful. I was dreadfully frightened for I noticed that they were examining everything in the room. I asked if they would like a pitcher of milk - explaining I would have to go to the spring house to get it. I took Katie on my arm and a pitcher in my hand - went to the spring house and climbed out the window that was so heavily covered with roses. I ran to the fence threw Katie over and fell over myself, than ran through the high corn zigzagging from row to row - until I reached a tenant house a quarter mile away. When Rob and the tenant - Joe Riggs - returned they went to the house and found that every possible hiding place for money had been searched but nothing had been taken but Rob's beloved meerschaum pipe.
The years during the war were exciting in a way. We had to say goodbye to the negro boys just at harvest time. Rob begged them to stay on wages but Dan - the spokesman - said "No, Marse Rob we has been freed by the Lawd - and we must go." Our boys went to Oxford Ohio and their descendants still live there. Dan became a minister an exhorter of fame among his people.
Before the war emigrants from North Carolina and Eastern Kentucky had been drifting in. Now when our slaves left us, their opportunity came. They got work on all the farm in the Bend and soon became fixtures. They were all solidly Union in politics, but out of regard for their jobs, said little about the war. We hated this Uriah Heep attitude but had to put up with veiled insolence. About the time the war ended Rob became involves in a lawsuit*, and after dragging out litigation for several years had to accept defeat. (*I have never heard the full story of this lawsuit but it was with a close Piatt relative and engendered much bitterness.) After the suit was settled we were left with only a few thousand dollars so Rob bought the ferry at Rising Sun and Rabbit Hash. I had gone to Hanover, Ind. to place Louis in college. Katie was a small child about 6 or 7 when Rob told us he had to give up everything. We stayed on in Hanover for a few years - but finally had to come to the ferry house in Rabbit Hash. The changes were frightful - the war had taken such a toll of men and property, all the old places in East Bend looked neglected and poor. The Gregorys and Gosses had moved away and most shocking of all - there had been a few marriages between the new young people and daughters and sons of our old friends.
Rob adjusted himself to the new situation with a sigh and a laugh. He rowed people across the river to Rising Sun and carried their packages on shore with as much élan as he had shown on his own home front porch - but it was hard to take money for such services. One day, Dan* came back. (*Dan, spokesman for the slaves at the time they were freed and left the farm.) He was dressed in black broadcloth. And wore a silk hat - he stepped into the skiff along with the other passengers, and took a seat facing Rob. It must have been a very uncomfortable ride for him - but it amused Rob, and when Dan offered to pay, Rob said "No indeed Dan - you've rowed me across the river many a time, It's my turn to pay now." And he clasped Dan's hand & shook it vigorously.
When letters began to come back to the old darkies left behind, the postmaster used to mark them (col) so Rob got to calling all the old fellows "Colonel" which they liked much better than "Uncle".
I (Katie Piatt Bottorff) asked my mother if Uncle Richard, Gen. Canby - was ever in East Bend during the war and she said "Only once. He was sent west, and came to see me while we were still on the farm. I was enraptured and fairly flew into his arms. Rob remarked in his joking way that he had never expected to see his wife in a Yankee soldier's arms." Brother Richard was always a Southerner but he had accepted his education from the U.S. Government, and he felt that personal honor required him to stay in the army as a Union soldier.
This is a good place to end the story of the Piatts of East Bend. The older ones - Major Robert and his son John were dead. Uncle William had removed to Cumberland Maryland. Uncle Daniel lived near Cincinnati on the Florence pike. Uncle Jacob was still in East Bend but sadly deteriorated after his lawsuit with my father. Uncle Johnny was still in the Bend but was planning to move to Missouri, and we, our family, were at the ferry house in Rabbit Hash. Aunt Ailsie was old and feeble and Uncle Nimrod had been "cojined" by a husky young girl who wanted a roof over her head. The bitternesses of the past war period were fading out - but they had left me totally unreconstructed."
End of the original document.
Lavan Lodge may have been named Laban. Both spellings are in this document, but a WWW search only turned up Laban Lodge. He married Catherine Sherrod Piatt, Katie's aunt.
Likewise Kintey and Kintley may be the same family and is most likely the Kirtley family who owned Kirtley's Landing just downriver from Piatt's Landing.
General Edward Richard Sprigg Canby served in the U.S. Army until his death in 1873 in California. Gen. Canby was the only regular army general killed in the Indian wars. Several western states have a city named in his honor. (George Armstrong Custer held the regular Army rank of Lt. Col. at the time of his death, but is generally remembered for his youthful rank of Brevet Major General of volunteers.)
A common transcription of Piatt is Platt and Gen. Canby's birthplace is given as Platt's Landing, KY. I suspect that Piatt's Landing is the ferry landing called Rabbit Hash in the narrative above.
Further details of John H. and Robert Piatt's dealings with the U.S. government is covered in http://www.rootsweb.com/~ohhamilt/howe/812.html (near the bottom of the page).
Further history of the Piatts or Pyeatts can be found at http://www.angelfire.com/ar/pyeatt/ and http://member-webroots.org/deadrelatives/piatt.html
Further history of the Canby family can be found at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~kitgens/chapter8.htm
The Bottorff Family Website can be found at www.bottorff.org
The typeface and colors of this webpage were selected to reflect the faded mimeograph copy that was my primary source. Photos below were all found on the WWW.
Steve Bottorff 2004
Colonel Dan Piatt, photograph by Matthew Brady
Donn Piatt Jacob Piatt
General Edward Richard Sprigg Canby
A 1999 map of the East Bend, KY region, about 20 miles SW of Cincinnati, OH